Acceptance, Not Tolerance

“Political polarization” is often used as shorthand for the worsening state of politics in the United States. It’s simply assumed to be negative in connotation and in real life. Well, it isn’t. Politics is not a race towards bipartisanship; it is about survival and justice, and there are many instances where there is no middle-ground solution. In some matters, it is life or death, freedom or oppression, dignity or dehumanization, and people should be polarized against those who would marginalize them.

This is the state of our politics in 2019, and it is a fact we must live with. We should be polarized about locking Latinx children in cages, starving Yemen, and ruining our last hopes of mitigating climate change. These are not issues with which we can tolerate compromise; they can only go one way or the other.
Of course, polarization is much easier started than finished. Like it or not, we have to live together in the same country with large groups of people who enthusiastically support despicable policies. For some of people—as in those with much less privilege than me—this is an obvious reality. I have not faced any severe discrimination in my life, and far be it from me to claim any struggle that is not my own. Nonetheless, this dilemma has been weighing on me for years: how to live with entire states and populations who seem so diametrically opposed to justice?

The easy answer is anger and resentment, and both reactions are justifiable for many people. The labor of changing this country for the better should not and cannot be placed on the most vulnerable groups of people. Privileged people, like myself, thus need to start actually doing our part. That is where anger and resentment, in my opinion, are not optimum strategies. It is with this privilege that I must lift the voices of marginalized people and confront people within my own communities.

The question still remains as to what I do with such monstrous odds in a time of polarization. Realistically speaking, I can’t get anything done by picking fights with tens of millions of Trump supporters. With this dilemma, I have come up with a sort of guiding philosophy: acceptance that lacks tolerance.
I can only accept that I live in a country so diametrically opposed to what I can consider being justice, and that polarizes me. But polarization is not synonymous with animosity. The result of being diametrically opposed to the President and his surrogates is not antagonism, but activism. When I say I won’t tolerate Trump supporters, that does not mean I will refuse to try to persuade them to my side. Quite the opposite—we need working-class solidarity and the support of people from across the country if we want Medicare for All, affordable college, and green energy solutions.

But it also means that I won’t act as if I can look past their support for the Republican Party and its destructive ideologies. I can accept that they have different political views than me, but I cannot tolerate these differences and will actively work to change them. As an activist, I must work constantly and not compromise on matters that affect the existential and physical safety of marginalized people and the planet itself.

Once again, the burden of this admittedly broad call to action falls upon those of us who don’t have to actively fear for their safety when interacting with polarized parties. And sometimes, some groups cannot be persuaded and won’t be willing to join progressive causes, and those groups need to be defeated. We cannot let a lukewarm principle like “compromise” get in the way of real justice—we have to win.